Lately I've been playing a lot of early text adventures, so this week I'm stepping up to a more substantial game, tackling the 1990 VGA version of Lucasarts' Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Lucasarts produced two games as tie-ins with the movie's release -- an action game and this point-and-click graphic adventure designed by Ron Gilbert, David Fox, and Noah Falstein. It was released in EGA and VGA versions, but never saw a "talkie" CD-ROM edition. I'm playing the VGA release, currently commercially available at a reasonable price via Steam; this modern edition runs in a Windows SCUMM interpreter using the original game's data files.
I thought I had played this one all the way through back in the day, but as I revisited it for this post I realized I must have gotten stuck at some point and moved on to another game. So this time I am determined to finish it, with a little help from walkthroughs if necessary. It's more difficult than many of the Lucasarts adventures, with some fatal scenarios and tricky navigation sequences, though it does feature several alternate story pathways so I don't think this was entirely due to time pressure to make the movie's release window.
The game and interface design predates The Secret of Monkey Island -- this iteration of the SCUMM engine is essentially a VGA version of the Maniac Mansion approach, with dialogue appearing above the image window instead of as an
overlay tied to the character. And hovering with the mouse pointer doesn't pick up object
names -- we have to click on each spot to see if there's something
clickable there, or explicitly choose the "What is" verb. And there's no
double-click-to-do-the-obvious support -- all those small
improvements took time to emerge as the Lucasarts style developed.
As always, I urge interested adventurers to buy and play Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade before proceeding with my comments below; while familiarity with the movie will give away certain plot developments, the game's pacing and focus differs quite a bit from the original. In the interest of historical documentation, I will be revealing all the details of my gaming experience here. In other words, there will be...
***** SPOILERS! I HATE SPOILERS! *****
The game opens with a scene of young Henry Jones running across the cars of a circus train, then falling through the roof. We cut to Barnett University, 1938, where Dr. Jones returns, dripping wet, with the Cross of Coronado he has been seeking.
Indy stops in the gym to change clothes, and takes a moment to break the fourth wall, explaining that we will use F5 to save. We can spar with the gentleman in the boxing ring; oddly, the manual does not actually spell out the fighting controls; after fiddling with several possibilities, I searched online to discover we use the numeric keypad for blocks and high/low/middle punches. This training will come in handy later.
Indy's colleague Marcus Brody informs us that last month an expensive Mexican statue was brought in for dating, which Indy broke in half to show the cross-section indicated it was an obvious fake. As a result, there seems to be some tension between Professor Mulbray and a new geology professor, an amateur archaeologist who advised Mulbray to buy the statue.
Dr. Jones' classroom is full of students needing his signature as faculty advisor. Dialogue choices allow Jones to be dismissive or helpful; we can hold them off by asking Irene the administrator to take down everyone's names so they can be seen in order, but having escaped to his office, Jones is trapped.
His boiler-room office features a Sam and Max totem pole, courtesy of artist Steve Purcell. Under a stack of junk mail, letters, and papers of no interest, we find a package from Indy's father, containing the elder Jones' Grail Diary.
We can examine many objects in Jones' office, but most are just for comic relief or atmosphere; one item, the Sankara Stones, sets this adventure about 3 years after Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Another is a meteor fragment oozing purple slime, a Maniac Mansion reference. Our goal for the moment is to help Indy escape his office; we can open a window, as the office is on the ground floor. But freedom is short-lived, as our hero is shortly met and taken away by two rather insistent gentlemen.
Jones is taken to meet Walter Donovan, a major donor to the university and a Holy Grail enthusiast. He shows Indy some fragmentary clues about the Grail's location (available in the game manual), and tells him his expert has disappeared while searching for more information in Venice, Italy. That expert, we shortly discover, is Jones' father, and our story is underway.
The game squeezes in as much traditional Lucasarts humor as possible, given the basically straight nature of the story. We can prepare for the trip by checking the student bulletin board, where we discover such notices as, "For sale: 6000 rats, 500 snakes, call S. Spielberg." We can't explore any of the other classrooms, as classes are in session.
More productively, Indy can travel to Henry Jones Sr.'s house, which has been ransacked. We can remove a plant and a tablecloth to find a locked chest, and take a childhood painting Indy made of a trophy his father won; it looks suspiciously like a grail. A piece of sticky tape on the back of the bookcase (once we accidentally knock it down) is lumpy and too sticky to be opened; that jar of solvent on Indy's office shelf may come in handy now. It does -- the tape dissolves, revealing a small key. We can unlock Dad's desk to find a boyhood diary Indy kept, meant to look like the real Grail Diary; given that this is an adventure game, we'll probably want to take this along for deception or swapping purposes.
It seems we've exhausted the local puzzles, so it's time to head off to Venice. Indy and Marcus are planning to meet a Dr. Schneider -- Dr. Elsa Schneider, as it turns out. A fountain nearby is "a beautiful example of Purcellian design." Marcus heads off for a gondola ride, conveniently getting him out of the way for plotting purposes, and at a library in a converted church, we begin searching for the Roman numerals Dad mentioned before his disappearance from this very building. They prove to be easy to find:
It's not quite as simple as it appears, though -- there are multiple rooms, each with these numbered tiles on the floor, and lots of details to investigate for clues or jokes. One plaque is "Donated by Giorgio Lucasi," while others make Dante Alighieri, Galileo and Spielberg jokes.
What can we do here? We can explore the stacks, and see a variety of stained-glass windows with differing details. One design is depicted in the Grail Diary, with a cryptic note -- "If ye would enter, follow the third on the left." There are three numbers on each of the pillars in the matching room -- the one on the left has "IV" in the third position. It seems we want slab IX in the room matching the drawing.
To open the slab, we need something for leverage. A red museum cordon on a metal post should do -- we'll keep the red cordon as well. After we break the slab, a Nazi guard arrives to investigate, and Indy has to leap into the hole to escape.
Now we are in the famous catacombs, with skulls creepily embedded in the walls. It's a maze down here, with limited visibility; one room has a torch, which might be handy if it weren't held firmly in place by hard, dry mud. There's also a slab we can't get a grip on. Another room has a plug, with bubbles leaking out underwater, but Indy refuses to go swimming in the dank water (not that we can blame him.) A sewage pipe leads to a much more formal burial room, behind a locked gate, with skeletons neatly arranged on shelves and a coffin placed on a central slab. A nearby manhole leads back up to the restaurant where we first arrived in Venice.
So it seems we need to solve some puzzles underground. A room I hadn't visited yet features a skeleton with a hook at the end of his arm; it's removable, but not useful for opening the slab. There's an old rusty lock on the grating into the burial room, but we can't pick it with the hook, at least not from this side. The church/library is now locked, so we can't reenter on the main level to try to find Elsa. We can notice that the Purcellian fountain is full of water, which suggests a connection to the water-filled catacombs.
Hmmmm... we can pick up a bad bottle of wine circa 1924 from a couple of drunken lovers in the dining area. Then we can fill it with water from the catacombs, and loosen the mud to free the torch. Attempting to take it, however, trips a trap that sends Indy tumbling down to a lower level of the maze, breaking the wine bottle in the process in the traditional purpose-served adventure game style.
This smaller sub-level has a ladder that leads back up to the first level, coming under the immovable slab, which slams shut after Indy emerges, necessitating a trip the long way around if we want to go back below. We can also locate the wooden plug from the underside, visibly leaking water. We can attach the hook, but Indy won't pull it directly, so the whip comes in handy for the first time in this adventure. Once we've pulled the plug, we can no longer access a small dead-end room past the torrent of water, so I restored to an earlier save to check it out; the inscriptions on the walls here confirm either the Persian or Book of Merlin account of the Grail as correct, depending on how the game has randomized its setup. This is an optional clue, it appears, but we earn some points for doing so.
After draining the plugged chamber, we can return to the upper catacombs and pass through a tunnel that was formerly underwater. This leads to a room with a set of statue tiles resembling patterns seen in the Grail Diary; opening the book confirms one "correct" combination and one "certain death" pattern. Ah, moving one statue may affect the others -- I was lucky here, and got the right combination with a couple of clicks.
Now we can explore some more; the game's second act takes place almost entirely in this maze of catacombs. A ramp over a small chasm is impassably raised, apparently operated by a chain; another room has an assortment of cogs and, yes, a chain. It appears to have thrown a belt, which is lying broken on the floor, suspiciously red in color. The red cordon from the library works as a replacement, and turning a wheel operates the gadgetry. Now Indy can cross the gap and reach more catacombs. This maze is pretty substantial!
The next puzzle consists of a set of skulls, and a fragment of sheet music identified in the Grail Diary as "Per Hos Sonos Sepulcrum Aperies", which my casual Latin roughly translates as "Song For Opening the Tomb." There are six notes, and six skulls, but only five lines on the staff; in my playthrough it took a couple tries to get my "notes" aligned with the musical notation, hitting the right skulls to open yet another door.
The final (I think, based on feel and the amount of time we've been down here) section of the maze offers lots of dead ends and only one successful path, finally returning to the room with the casket we glimpsed through the grating earlier. It's the casket of the Lost Knight, and the legend on his shield sends toward Iskenderun, where the Grail should be; this is one of the game's most striking images in VGA:
Having finally accessed this room and gotten a clue, Indy can simply pull on the old rusty lock on the grating to escape this area. Elsa and Marcus arrive just as Indy emerges -- Marcus has learned that Henry Jones is being held captive in a German castle. Elsa and Indy head off to Germany, and Marcus says he will meet them in Iskenderun. (Marcus is soaking wet, and we never learn why his gondola ride apparently went badly.)
This is where Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade starts to get difficult -- Indy has to talk and/or fight his way into the castle. Dealing with the butler at the entrance is easy -- he doesn't believe Indy's hastily improvised cover story about being a Scottish lord here to inspect the tapestries, but he goes down with a single punch. A cutscene informs us that the Nazis are guarding a painting of "an old cup." This is likely a link to the Grail's location; we can guess that we'll probably need to substitute Indy's childhood painting and make off with the genuine article.
One tapestry is ratty looking, apparently just for visual variety. A supply room contains a keg, and a boar roasting over some hot coals. A drunken guard staggers around one room; offering to get him another drink gets Indy his "beer shtein." We can in fact get him another drink, but that doesn't seem to earn us any progress; maybe we should just keep the stein, after filling it with ale again. We can pour ale on the boar-roasting coals to produce hot steam, still too hot to touch; after it settles down we can take the roast boar with us.
Some areas of the castle, a large, multi-floor maze presented from a top-down perspective, are patrolled by guards that must be talked to or fought. In one ornately decorated room, a suit of armor holds a deadly axe that we can knock down; Indy puts it back up but can't seem to carry it with him. A nearby fireplace features a couple of statues; something's odd about one statue's belly. Pushing it opens a secret panel in the fireplace that leads outside; a motorcycle parked here looks like a good escape vehicle, but we still need to rescue Indy's Dad. Walking around to the front of the castle establishes that Elsa has disappeared from the car, and Indy suspects she may have been captured.
Running into a guard inside establishes an enduring Lucasarts adventure joke, as one of Indy's lines is "Hi! I'm selling fine leather jackets like the one I'm wearing!" -- variations on this theme appear in a number of later graphic adventures. But Indy can't always talk his way out of trouble -- in my playthrough, I had to fight a guard after failing to pass myself off as a Nazi, finding 15 Marks on his unconscious body. Another had nothing to yield. But Indy can get an SS uniform from a closet, if he can get it off the locked clothes rack. For now he'll have to settle for a servant's uniform.
Unlike most Lucasarts games, we can actually lose and fail in our mission; it's not even very hard to do in this part of the game. If Indy loses a fight with a guard, he's doomed to a lifetime of polishing Hitler's ancient artifacts. Well, Hitler's lifetime anyway... which, since his people found the Holy Grail and, apparently, its life-extending properties, is definitely not the kind of ending we want. It works better (for my aging reflexes) if we talk our way through instead of throwing punches, but I had to restart the guard section to figure out how to deal with each encounter successfully. One guard can be accused of leaking information, another can be sold a fine leather jacket -- with 15 marks payment in advance. The game seems to adjust to the player's style -- after talking past two guards I did not run into the tough guard that caused me problems earlier on the second floor, which was much more playable on this second run.
A chest contains 50 Marks, so Indy has 65 now. Another room contains an officer's uniform, but it's too small for Indy... but it has a key in the pocket. Now we can take the grey uniform from the first floor and wear it. Changing back into Indy's normal IndyWear (TM) evokes the classic Raiders of the Lost Ark theme -- as Indy looks around and asks, "What was that?"
A gallery storage room contains a variety of artwork, including a painting of Maniac Mansion characters Dr. Fred and Nurse Edna on their wedding day. A statue has a plaque that reads, in French, "If found, return to the Louvre, postage paid," alongside a paint-by-numbers Mona Lisa.
Putting the uniform on too early draws suspicion from the guards we talked our way past earlier. I had a lot of trouble getting through the castle, probably due to my poor fighting skills -- even one brief brawl tended to take a lot out of Indy, and I ultimately had to resort to a walkthrough to get the right approach nailed for each of the guards. I needed to know that we can avoid violence by convincing the butler his relative Otto needs help, and getting the name of the drunken soldier's commanding officer for later use. We can give the fake Grail painting to a guard on the second floor, and via a cutscene we learn that the combination to something is in a file drawer in the commander's office. We can talk our way past other guards by citing Indy's presumable authority when he's wearing the grey uniform, and acquire a first aid kit for use if we get into any more fights.
Up on the third floor of the castle, Colonel Vogel is away from his desk; we can give the roast boar to the guard dog and take a security pass from the file cabinet; it's unsigned, but has the combination we heard about earlier written on the back. We can also pick up a trophy that might pass for the Grail in a pinch.
Down the hall, there's a burly blonde Nazi we need to deal with, and he's tough to beat in a fight. We can avoid a fight by giving him the stein full of ale, but he still won't let Indy past; he "barely tasted that thimblefull." This suggests, that a larger drink might be useful, and we can fill the trophy with ale to provide a more suitable dose. The big guy drinks (for quite a while) and crushes the trophy against his forehead, after which Indy can fell Biff the Nazi with one punch.
We can explore the rest of the third floor now -- one room has some suspicious wires above its door, suggesting an alarm system is in place. That might be a good location to check, but Indy has no way to cut the wires at present.
Another guard confronts Indy -- we can fight him, gaining 25 marks for the trouble. An elegantly appointed room has large windows, through which Indy can see Elsa with some Nazis across the way. Is she captured, or colluding? We have no way to find out now, but we should grab the silver key hanging on the candelabra here.
Returning to the art storage room, we can't pick it up, but we can Push the paint-by-numbers Mona Lisa aside to reveal a vault that we can open with the combination on the pass. Inside is Indy's childhood "grail" painting -- and a real painting of the grail, with a glowing aura about it as mentioned in the Grail Diary. We can't move or take the painting, and the Grail Diary doesn't have anything apropos to say in-game, but if we look at the printed (or PDF via Steam) version of the game manual we can see that it resembles a particular description. In my playthrough, it was gold or brass and glowing, and shaped like a chalice; the metal, the shape (chalice or shallow bowl) and glowing/non-glowing seem to be the distinguishing factors here. The painting doesn't seem like a good match for either of the descriptions I have, though, so I may be on the wrong track somewhere.
We can use the silver key to unlock the rooms near the alarmed door -- a cabinet in one yields 75 marks. Unlocking the wired door frees Henry Sr., but Vogel shows up and confiscates the Grail Diary, tying Indy and Henry up downstairs. Fortunately, we can inch the chair we're tied to across the floor -- with a frankly excessive amount of tedious Pull/Chairs clicking -- then push the suit of armor to free the Jones as the axe falls, cutting the ropes.
Outside at last, we take the motorcycle -- to Berlin, to recover the Grail Diary. (This plotline varies depending on whether or not we've lost the real diary at this point, which I had.)
Elsa gives Indy the Grail Diary, which she has managed to recover, but then Hitler himself shows up on his way to speak at a rally -- and if we offer him the unsigned pass, of all things, he signs it and we can go on our way. This is a short and bizarre little interlude -- I think it's just here to cover in case we lose the Grail Diary; I should have offered Vogel the old book instead.
Arriving at the airport, we discover that we need 175 marks to fly out of Germany, but Indy only has 165 (in my game.) Henry has some coins, but they are not legal tender, apparently. Hmmmm. And we can't engage Henry in conversation for ideas. We can talk to a man reading a newspaper, who will happily talk about his grandchildren but seems to know nothing about the Zeppelin.
We can walk out onto the tarmac, where a biplane sits waiting, but Indy has no clue how to fly it; again, this can vary depending on what Indy studied while he was at the library in Venice. In my case, we have to engage the man inside with talk about his grandchildren, then switch to the other character and snatch the tickets from his coat pocket. This moment is one of the few that suggests this game was more hastily assembled than the Lucasarts norm -- if we don't do this correctly the first time we talk to the man, there's no way to re-trigger that conversation, so we're stuck.
With the Zeppelin tickets in hand, we can take off for Iskenderun. (We can try to get a refund from the ticket counter for the tickets to raise some cash, but that doesn't work.) After we board the zeppelin, a cutscene informs us that Vogel knows we are trying to escape, and he orders the zeppelin radioed to return to Germany. How this information reaches Indy is never really clear, it's just a plot point for adventuring's sake, but we need to distract the radio operator.
Putting coins in the piano player's bowl in the Zeppelin's lounge seems like a possibility, but figuring out what to do next has to be quick, as the operator returns shortly and we don't get a second chance; if we fail to stop the radio order, soon we're back on the ground, and both Doctors Jones are taken to the firing squad for a rather darker ending than expected.
What we have to do is open the locker, grab a wrench and destroy the radio, then talk or fight our way out of trouble when the radioman returns. If we leave the room before he gets back, he tries to fix it quickly, so we need to stick around and make sure that doesn't happen. We can now use the wrench in a hole in the wall to turn a bolt, lowering a ladder to the zeppelin's upper level.
This leads us into a large and fairly difficult maze -- there are lots of guards to fight, no options to bribe or talk around these confrontations, and no rooms where we can take a break and use the first aid kit to restore Indy's health. We can avoid many of the guards with careful maneuvering and use of ladders and loops, but it's not at all easy -- it took me a few hours to get through this part, and often I got very near the end of the maze, only to get knocked out by one of a cluster of guards. Finally I had a lucky run where I managed to elude the guards and make it to the end of the maze. We find Henry already in the biplane attached to the bottom of the zeppelin -- after a brief flight, we get shot down by enemy fighters and crash-land on a farm, with no major injuries for either of our heroes.
A red car parked nearby has no gas and can't be taken, but a similar blue vehicle is ready to go. We encounter several Nazi roadblocks along the way -- we can talk our way through or fight, but there are quite a few different conversational options and in my case most of the paths led to fighting. These fights are not as difficult as the earlier ones, fortunately, and once we're past the roadblocks, we arrive at an ancient tomb. This is the resting place of the Holy Grail, and Marcus and Elsa rejoin the Jones just in time to wrap up the quest.
Inside the Grail Temple, the first sight we see is a freshly decapitated head bouncing across the ground. We soon encounter our ethically challenged patron Donovan, who has run out of his "volunteers" conscripted to attempt the three trials leading to the Grail. Donovan shoots Henry, forcing Indy to seek it himself -- the healing power of the Grail is the only thing that can save Dad. Elsa is also here, but it's not clear what her role in the proceedings is at the moment, and there's no time to discuss.
The first trial, the Trial of Penitence, calls for a "man who is humble before God" -- and if we just try to march through, Indy is sliced into bits by a giant sawblade. If this were a text adventure, I would try to KNEEL or PRAY, but we don't seem to have those options in point-and-click mode. But ah, wait, we actually do -- if we click on a slightly brighter pixel near the blade zone, Indy cries "Kneel!" and then ducks and leaps out of the blade's path, with some rather effective and sprightly spritework.
The second trial features letter tiles on the ground -- we have to spell out GEHOVA, an alternate spelling of Jehovah/Yahweh. Actually, we don't have to spell it out -- we just have to find a path of tile movements using only the letters in GEHOVA. This isn't too difficult, aside from viewing the letters sideways onscreen so we don't mistake I for H.
The third trial appears impossible -- there's an invisible bridge Indy must use to walk across a wide chasm, and no real way to detect its location. I needed some tips here -- again we have to click on exactly the right pixel to get Indy off on a successful foot, and it's a pain because if we miss the spot, we have to pass through the first two trials again. We also aren't allowed to quit or save at this point in the game, either, making it doubly frustrating. But once we see what we're looking for, it's manageable.
Entering the grail's resting place, we encounter an aged knight, still alive some 700 years after completing the quest for the Grail and anxious to pass the duty of guarding the Grail on to someone new and worthy. Indy's not interested, but explains that he needs the Grail to rescue his father, and the knight commands him to choose one from a broad selection of Grail-like objects.
The painting in the castle indicated a bronze/gold, glowing cup in my playthrough, so that's the one I selected. Except apparently I chose wrong, as drinking from the grail aged Indy into a skeleton, which then exploded in a comically grisly manner. Time to restore and make my choice more carefully.
Checking the printed Grail Diary again, I note that a key difference between the two leads we have (Staubig's letter and the Persian manuscript) is that one purported Grail glows and the other does not. We know we're looking for a glowing one based on the painting in the castle, so I guess we want the glowing shallow bowl of pewter engraved with a design of grapes. This is the right one, and Indy is able to rescue Henry. Then Elsa tries to make off with the Grail, despite the Knight's warning that it must not leave the temple. The temple shakes, Elsa gets her just deserts by falling down a newly open hole, and the Grail would be similarly lost, were it not for Indy's whip, which he hasn't really used very much in this game but employs now to retrieve the treasure from the chasm:
We give the Grail back to the ageless Knight for safekeeping, and the game is over as everyone heads home (aside from the dedicated Knight, whose future career possibilities now seem extremely limited.) The game tracks a score for this playthrough as well as for the series as a whole, since different choices can be made. Frankly, I'm just glad to have played to a successful conclusion once after all these years!
I'm generally a big fan of the Lucasarts point-and-click adventures -- they almost always feature great artwork and a sense of humor that I appreciate. But while there is much to enjoy here, Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade gets bogged down in tediously difficult sections and frustrating dead ends that tend to dilute its impact -- it would be a better game in my opinion were it a few hours shorter, with a design more in keeping with the other player-friendly Lucasarts adventures. Fortunately, Lucasarts' non-movie sequel Indiana Jones and The Fate of Atlantis does everything right, and I'll get around to playing it one of these weeks.